Cavernous Sinus Thrombosis

What is Cavernous Sinus Thrombosis?

Often the result of an infection, cavernous sinus thrombosis (CST) is a potentially life-threatening condition where a blood clot forms and blocks a vein behind the eye sockets. Veins located in this area transport blood from the head to the heart. The resulting clot blocks this flow. While it’s a rate condition that’s not especially prevalent among any specific age groups, urgent treatment is necessary.

What are the Symptoms of Cavernous Sinus Thrombosis?

Some type of infection affecting the face (sinuses, teeth, ears, eyes) is usually the cause of cavernous sinus thrombosis. In response to the infection, a clot is created by the body to halt the spread of the bacteria. Because of the clot, pressure increases within the brain and may result in brain damage or death. CST can also result from an injury involving a severe blow to the head.

Symptoms include

  • Severe headaches (most common symptom) or fever
  • Irritation or swelling around eyes
  • Seizures
  • Vision problems or vision loss
  • Immobility of eyes or droopy eyelids
  • Fatigue

Cavernous Sinus Thrombosis Causes

Cavernous Sinus Thrombosis is caused when an infection in the eyes, teeth, or sinuses spreads to the rest of the face. As a response, the body’s immune system induces a clot as a stopgap measure to keep pathogens and bacteria from spreading throughout the rest of the body. The clot also increases pressure inside the brain, which can ultimately cause death.

In cases where an infection isn’t present, cavernous sinus thrombosis can still be caused by severe trauma to the head. Getting hit in the head with a forceful blow or walking into a hard object with enough force may be sufficient to induce the condition.

Some medications can cause cavernous sinus thrombosis to occur, as can some medical conditions in which the patient is made more susceptible to blood clots. Rarely, pregnancy has caused incidents of blood clotting severe enough to result in cavernous sinus thrombosis.

How is Cavernous Sinus Thrombosis Treated?

A positive diagnosis is made with an MRI, CT scan, or brain scan. Spinal fluid and blood tests may also be done to identify the infection that caused the clot to form.

Treatment includes

Treatment involves high doses of antibiotics, usually delivered intravenously, to treat the underlying infection. Related swelling is sometimes treated with corticosteroids. Blood thinners may be used to prevent new clots. The site of the infection is sometimes drained with surgical intervention.

The risk of cavernous sinus thrombosis is greater for individuals who are taking existing medication to treat certain underlying health issues, especially those requiring drugs that may encourage clotting. Such drugs may also be administered following surgery to prevent blood loss. If untreated, CST results in changes in mental state, drowsiness, confusion, and death.

Cavernous Sinus Thrombosis Prevention

There are no known treatments to prevent the formation of cavernous sinus thrombosis, though treating nasal furuncle and sinus infections early enough may prevent the spread of the initial infection. Proper dental care may also help avoid the initial infection that then leads to the condition. Additionally, staphylococcal (staph) bacteria infections lead to the condition in 7 out of 10 cases, so close monitoring of that infection, including immediate medical care, is recommended.

Studies indicate that some people are at greater risk than others of developing cavernous sinus thrombosis. Being wary of these factors and discussing one’s likelihood of contracting the condition with a doctor is also recommended. In general, young adults and children are at a greater risk than older adults, though pregnant women or women taking contraceptive pills are placed at a high risk of developing blood clots as well. Any medication or lifestyle that increases the likelihood of developing blood clots increases the risk that cavernous sinus thrombosis will occur.

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Last Reviewed:
October 09, 2016
Last Updated:
November 29, 2017